Following the invention of paper, the early Chinese invented cardboard. This strong material has been in continuous use since that time. One early use in China was the wrapping of food in sheets made from Mulberry tree bark.
Cardboard reached Europe by the 17th century. In Europe what we know as the cardboard box began to develop. Englishman Sir Malcom Thornhill produced the first commercial cardboard box. In 1817 a German board game called “The Game of Besieging” used a cardboard box. French silk manufacturers used cardboard boxes to transport Japanese Bombyx Mori moth eggs. In 1856 the first patent for a cardboard product was issued for use in English Gentlemen’s high hats. In 1871 American Albert Jones used cardboard to pack and ship glass products.
In 1879 a factory cutting accident ruined twenty thousand paper bags. While reviewing the mistake Robert Gair realized he could use bags to create folding box templates. Gair made changes to the press so it could produce pre-cut cardboard boxes using flat pieces that folded together. Previously this was done by hand. By 1900 wooden crates and boxes were being replaced by mass produced corrugated paper shipping cartons.
Mass produced cardboard allowed cost efficient packaging of mass goods for sale in the market place. The Kellogg brothers used cardboard to hold their cereal product. Originally enclosing the box of cereal in a sealed bag, later the bag moved inside the box. One of Gair’s early customers, Nabisco used cardboard boxes to pack and distribute their biscuits.
Cardboard boxes have not just been used for packaging. Cardboard boxes were manufactured into countless toys. Children have used cardboard boxes as pretend forts or homes. An area of London with 200 homeless people using cardboard boxes for shelter became known as “Cardboard City.” In 2005 architect Peter Ryan designed a whole house composed largely of cardboard boxes.
Cardboard boxes remain in constant use in modern society. They are a recyclable, renewable, and biodegradable product that is also highly reusable by consumers. This versatility bodes well for continued use of cardboard well into our future.